What’s Dimethylamine?

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Dimethylamine is a flammable gas used to make agrochemicals, rubber, and pharmaceuticals. It is also a component of deadly nerve gas and a known carcinogen. It is produced in various regions and is classified as a hazardous substance in the US and Europe.

Dimethylamine is a colorless, flammable gas with an ammonia-like odor that is usually stored in concentrations of 40% to 45% in water. It is used to make agrochemicals as pesticides, in rubber manufacturing and some pharmaceuticals, as well as to make tabun, a deadly nerve gas in a class with sarin and soman. Tabun was invented in Germany during World War II and stored there in half a million artillery shells and over 100,000 aircraft-mounted bombs, but Germany lost the war to the Allies before the weapons could be successfully deployed.

Other uses of dimethylamine include its combination with benzyl chloride to produce benzyldimethylamine for use as an accelerator in the production of plastic epoxies and plastic laminates used in electrical components. About a third of the compound is used to make dimethylformamide, a common solvent used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, and dimethylacetamide, used in the manufacture of acrylic fibers and latex plastics. Estimates are that, as of 2011, approximately 25% of the dimethylamine produced is used in the municipal wastewater treatment industry. It is also a component of surfactant wetting agents that lower the surface tension of water, is used in the manufacture of rocket fuel, and as a chemical component of some soaps. About 10% of world production is used as a chemical precursor of dimethylaminoethyl ethanol, which is a pigment preparation in polyurethane rubber.

Characteristics of dimethylamine include the fact that it is a known carcinogen and, for this reason, it is banned for use in cosmetic products in the European Union. It can both burn and be absorbed into the skin when it comes into contact, causing possible liver damage, and contact with the eyes can lead to permanent blindness. Its highly flammable and volatile nature makes it a useful solvent in many industries, from photographic processing to leather tanning, so it is a common industrial chemical that should be handled with caution. As a health hazard, dimethylamine is recognized in the United States as an immunotoxic, neurotoxic, and respiratory toxicant, also having detrimental effects on the cardiovascular and blood systems of the body and gastrointestinal tract upon exposure.

Regions that produce the chemical include Mexico and the United States, India, and European nations. It is classified in the United States Federal Inventory Lists of Air Contaminants, Hazardous and Toxic Substances, and Explosives. The US state of California further classifies dimethylamine as a state occupational safety and health risk.

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